This Yukoner is joining a fleet of people en route to Gaza
Ron Rousseau of Carcross is aiming to raise awareness of Palestinians' plight
A Yukoner is part of a team travelling to the Gaza Strip to raise awareness of the struggles Palestinians face there.
Ron Rousseau of Carcross will join a fleet travelling from Scandinavia to Gaza over the next few months.
"I am honoured to be asked and humbled because of the opportunity," said Rousseau.
The mission is run by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an international organization that aims to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Israel says the naval blockade is legal and was set up to intercept the shipment of arms to Gazans. Human rights organizations say the blockade of Gaza is collective punishment under international law and should be lifted.
Rousseau was contacted by the group Canadian Boat to Gaza, which works in connection with the coalition.
Rousseau is president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for Whitehorse and the vice-president representing Indigenous workers at the Canadian Labour Congress. He facilitates Indigenous courses with these groups and is an outspoken advocate for Indigenous people in Canada.
Connections between Gaza and Canada
For Rousseau, there are connections between what's happening in the Gaza Strip and what's happened in Canada.
"[I'm] excited to go see what's going on and to be able to speak about what's going on — both inside of Gaza, but also here in Canada for the Indigenous people," he said.
"I think the Indigenous people of Palestine and the Indigenous people of Canada is a very similar history."
Rousseau points to access to safe drinking water as one issue shared by Palestinians and many First Nations in Canada.
He also said the pass system previously in place on Canadian reserves is similar to the current blockade around Gaza.
"They are inside a land jail," said Rousseau.
More than 100 dead in latest demonstrations
The most recent round of fighting in Gaza, which began at the end of March, resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians, who were killed by Israeli forces during protests along the border between Gaza and Israel. They were demonstrating for the right of return for displaced Palestinians and their descendents.
Rousseau, along with four other Canadians and a number of other activists, civil workers, artists, students and professors from around the world, will board boats en route to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Rousseau is leaving Yukon next week and will join the group in Amsterdam.
Four boats make up the fleet. Two will travel through Europe's rivers and canals, while the other two will sail along the Atlantic coast.
Goal to raise awareness
Both groups will make frequent stops at ports along the way. They'll run public outreach events to raise awareness for their journey and the struggles Palestinians in Gaza are facing.
"The goal that I think we are shooting for is just making sure that people are aware of what's going on and that the governments are also aware," said Rousseau. "Not a lot of people are actually following it and understand what's happening."
Rousseau will travel with the fleet for about a month. He'll make his way to Portugal with the group, then he'll go back to Canada.
Others from the fleet will continue toward Gaza, with the hopes of reaching its shores and opening up channels for others to travel to the area.
According to the coalition's website, the group hopes "for the Palestinian people to use their own territorial waters for fishing, other maritime resources, travel, exports and imports."
The coalition plans to donate their boats to local fisher organizations in Gaza.
- Additional contextual information about the Gaza blockade has been added to this story.Jun 04, 2018 12:09 PM CT
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Ron Rousseau was a member of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.May 28, 2018 12:12 PM CT